High school auditorium is too high

Members of the East Marlborough
Township Zoning Hearing Board continued a hearing regarding a zoning variance
for the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District. The new date is July 7.

Fronefield Crawford, the
township solicitor, requested the continuance because there were some witnesses
who could not attend the May 24 session, he said. Though he could not recall
which witnesses were unavailable, attorneys for the school board agreed to the
continuance.

There was no testimony given.

East Marlborough code limits
the height of a building to 35 feet, but the renovation project has an
auditorium that is almost 60 feet tall. The township cited the school district
on March 11. The district is appealing the enforcement notice and issued a
16-page appeal document signed by Superintendent Sharon Parker.

According to the document,
plans, with elevations, were presented during a 2008 public hearing.

“From this point on, it was
clear that the project would include a large auditorium that would be
considerably higher than the rest of the building (58 feet at its highest
portion, measured in accordance with the definition of ‘Height of Buildings or
Structures’ contained in Section 202 of the ordinance).”

The document goes on to say
that the district was proactive in seeking to prevent potential problems by
working with township supervisors, Planning Commission, Zoning Hearing Board
and others, showing the architect’s renderings that showed what would be built.

“It is beyond cavil that the
township was well aware, early on, of what the project would look like and,
particularly, of the height of the auditorium,” according to the appeal
document.

The district also says that the
Zoning Hearing Board granted relief from certain requirements.

“Under the approval of the ZHB
in February 2009, the district understood that all outstanding issues had been
resolved. At no time during the months of meetings and discussions did the
township ever voice concern about the height of the auditorium,” the document
says.

The document further says the
township is just forcing the district to follow an exercise.

“The enforcement notice of
noncompliance does not require compliance. ‘The township does not see removal
of that portion of the building which exceeds 35 feet,’” the district document
said quoting the notice.

The district also alleges the
township is requiring it to appeal with no certainty of outcome, that the
township could still deny the appeal or that the matter could wind up in the
Court of Common Pleas.

“If the duly approved project
were to be delayed by such proceeding, the welfare of hundreds of school
children and the community would be placed in jeopardy,” the document reads.

Further, the district asks that
the notice be stricken: “As the township does not seek compliance with the
35-foot height requirement, the simple solution would be to recognize the
validity of its own building permit and withdraw the enforcement notice.”

The appeal also challenges the
notice by saying the height of the auditorium is permitted under township code
by citing the section—Section 202— dealing with the number of stories a
building may be.

That section says a building
may be up to three stories high or 35 feet. By using the word “or,” the
district claims there really is no height limit.

The district contends the
auditorium is one-story. There is a balcony and, even if that is considered a
story, the auditorium is still within the three-story limit.

Parker and Rick Hostetler, the
supervisor of buildings and grounds for the district attended the session along
with attorneys for U-CF.

Crawford and Township Manager
Jane Laslo were on hand for East Marlborough.

Laslo said previously that the
elevations weren’t shown on land development plans, but the 35-foot height
limit is mentioned in the plan’s legend.

The July 7 session will be 7
p.m. in the township building.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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